- There are they options:
- You get to choose between volume and flavour
- You can select for volume and flavour with heirloom seeds
- Hybrids need to be purchased every season
- Heirloom seeds can be collected and replanted year after year
Seeds are a many splendored thing! From the dust like powder of Tiff seeds all the way up to monster broad bean seeds, they all have one thing in common: They are life in suspended animation.
Our task as gardeners is to release that life into its most favoured conditions.
Thankfully, most seeds have similar needs and this makes our tasks somewhat simple.
Before we get to actually sowing, and that’s different module, let’s look at our options.
These seeds are developed through genetic manipulation in the laboratory. These techniques showed great promise for plant breeders. Monsanto ruined it for everyone by splicing resistance to their herbicide RoundUp into the genes of some plants. This meant these could be sprayed with RoundUp and not be killed. Everything else, in theory, would be. This led to a huge increase in RoundUp with paddocks and gardens flooded with the stuff. The ongoing litigation regarding this weed killer’s connection with cancers taints not just Monsanto but the idea of genetically modifying seeds.
The techniques could have been used to speed up standard plant breeding techniques. Instead of crossing varieties to find a useful trait, say drought resistance, the gene for that, once identified, could have been spliced into a high yielding variety and new high yielding, drought resistant variety created. However the Monsanto effect now smears all GMO endeavours.
Luckily we have more than enough options to be going on with.
This option relies upon the notion/effect of hybrid vigour. When two relatively unrelated strains of a plant (or animal for that matter) are mated, their offspring exhibit increased growth rates, size and vigour.
As with all things in life, there’s a trade off. When the seeds collected from hybrid plants are sown again, they tend to revert to their two grandparent varieties. This means it is not worth the effort of saving and replanting hybrid seeds.
They do though tend to be more productive than our next option but you must purchase new seeds every season.
These seeds can be collected and replanted, year after year. They are also known as open pollinated seeds. While they tend to be less productive than hybrids, saving your seed can be a considerable saving, year after year.
The other advantage Heirlooms have is flavour. Hybrids have been driven by the need for farmers to transport produce to market without it spoiling. Plant breeders have been successful in this but the trade off is flavour.
Heirloom and Heritage seeds have survived in people’s backyards, in their vegetable gardens and amongst some commercial growers. Because the produce has to travel from the garden to the kitchen, spoilage was not a consideration.
The other advantage heirlooms have is local adaptation. We can select seeds from the best plants each year. Whatever “best” means to the individual gardener. Usually this means size and flavour. Once you have your heirloom seeds, their open pollinating habits mean you can start selecting for your locale from your first harvest. After ten, twenty fives or even several human generations you will have varieties better suited to where you garden and this is a good thing.